‘시음 /si-úm/’: Pianist Jeeyoon Kim translates herself onstage in new multimedia concert opening in La Jolla

Jeeyoon Kim's concert in La Jolla on Sunday, April 24, will be a blend of piano, poetry and photography.
Jeeyoon Kim’s concert in La Jolla on Sunday, April 24, will be a blend of piano, poetry and photography.
(Courtesy of Jeeyoon Kim)

Jeeyoon Kim is many things, but above all she is a musician. To showcase who she is through her favored mode of expression, she will return to the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla this month in a concert she composed to harmonize classical piano, poetry and photography.

The concert, “시음 /si-úm/,” on Sunday, April 24, at the Baker-Baum Concert Hall coincides with the release of Kim’s album of the same name and will kick off Kim’s 30-city tour across the country.

The name of the concert and album, “/si-úm/,” is a word Kim, a native Korean, made up from existing Korean syllables. “Si” (pronounced “shee”) is “poetry” and “úm” (pronounced “oom”) is the first part of “úmak,” which means “music.”

Kim, who lives in Hillcrest, invented the word while creating the concert’s format, a program of classical piano woven with poetry, short stories of her memories and black-and-white photography.

Each piece she plays will be preceded by her sharing a memory and reading one of 11 poems she commissioned or selected, with a background provided by one of 11 photos by Allen Brown.

The poems include works by San Diegans Rudy Francisco and Michael Klam and former world surfing champion Shaun Tomson.

The concert honors the various facets of Kim’s persona and her entry into the popularization of Korean culture in the United States, such as the rise of K-pop (Korean pop music) and K-beauty (Korean skin care routines).

“I’m K-classic,” said Kim, who added that she’s really “half and half,” as she has lived in the United States for 20 years.

For this album, Kim was photographed in a traditional Korean outfit against the background of New York City.

The inclusion of poems, Kim’s first foray into a literary genre that intrigues her, was a lengthy process involving struggles with copyright laws and painstaking care to pair each poem with musical pieces that she said “speak [a] similar kind of emotions that I feel” when played.

The endeavor also led Kim to incorporate her burgeoning love of surfing. She contacted Tomson, a Santa Barbara resident and one of several surfers she admires and whose books she has read.

Tomson’s books lay out “the wisdoms he learned from the ocean [and] how to apply in real life,” Kim said. She was thrilled when he agreed to write a poem for her concert.

Tomson and his family will attend the April 24 performance, Kim said, as will her mother, who lives in Korea and whom Kim hasn’t seen in two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The photography was the final element to be worked into the concert, Kim said. “I felt there’s glue needed,” something to “hold a place” for the audience as it listens to the poetry and piano.

Brown, a friend of Kim’s, gave her permission to comb through thousands of his negatives from the 1980s. She selected 11 photos to be used onstage and printed in a postcard set available for purchase at the concert.

Kim said she loved that Brown’s photography practice — before the advent of digital cameras — was a “slow process” involving developing film and choosing which images to print, even decades later.

The practice mirrored Kim’s two-year process to develop, edit and rehearse “/si-úm/,” orchestrating all the details but still leaving the end product open to the receiver’s interpretation.

“My idea is that I started this project, but it’s ended from your end,” she said. She added that she hopes audience members will record their thoughts about the music on the postcards to send to friends, thereby extending the concert’s reach.

“Everybody’s creative,” she said. “You will have to tap into it. I help them to be creative. Just start writing.”

For Kim, performing a concert is her gift to the audience that she experiences simultaneously. “It’s like unwrapping the present together,” she said. “I bring my story [and] hopefully that taps into your story. There is a magic taking place. … My wish is that we all will become someone else [afterward]. It’s a growth experience.”

Jeeyoon Kim, “시음 /si-úm/”

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, April 24

Where: Baker-Baum Concert Hall, Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla

Cost: $48